Early in the morning, two buses pull up to one of the biggest luxury hotels in the United Arab Emirates and about 50 hotel staff members get off. Not one, male or female, is Arab. All are from India or Pakistan.
A few blocks away, a similar scene unfolds in reverse some hours later. The quitting whistle blows at a construction site and the workers scramble for their buses. Aside from two or three British foremen looking down from the girders, the workers are all South Asians, some still wearing the ankle-length skirts of their native Bengal.
At the airport in Abu Dhabi, an Arab businessman arrives to check in for a flight to Bahrain. In line ahead of him are about 30 men, all Sri Lankans. He pushes to the head of line, sneering aloud. "These peoples are coolies, nothing but slaves."
An Arab-owned English-language newspaper seeking reporters and editors finds none in the United Arab Emirates. Advertisements in India bring 100 applications for every position. Some from university professors."It's the lure of gulf money," the chief editor observes.
In a great human migration whose implications are still ony dimly perceived, hundereds of thousands of South Asians have grossed the Indian Ocean-many legally, many not-to seek their fortunes in the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates, created in 1971 through merger of seven obscure shiekdoms, is one of the wolrd's richest countries, building itself almost from scratch on a tide of oil wealth, a land of unparalleled opportunity for workers from the overcrowded Indian subcontinent.
Other Arab countries around the Gulf also have many migrant workers from South Asia, but none is so dependent on them as the Emirates. Here workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh build the factories, run the hotels and banks, drive the taxis, sell the airline tickets operated the shops; wash the dishes collect the garbage.
Among the approximately 850,0000 people who live in this Maine-sized country,about half a million are said to be South Asians. With other workers coming in from Iran, Egypt and Oman, the Emirates, seven years after its creation, is a nation of foreigners.
"There is a critical labor shortage at all levels of employment in the UAE" says a report prepared by an American bank. "The country is highly dependant on foreign labor, and eistimates indicate that the foreign element may be approaching 90 percent" in the nongovernmental work force.
According to government officials, South Asian diplomats and employers here, it was inevitable that rackets and abuses would develop from the traffic in human beings that sprang up between here and the Indian subcontinent.
Aspiring migrants were cheated out of their life savings by labor recruiters who extorted fees for unneeded paper work and phony visas. Some migrants were simply dumped ashore by ship captains and left to find work or be deported. Workers who came under valid contracts found themselves bound to their employers, unable to quit or even to complain for fear of deportation.
"Many of our people sold their small landholdings and their wive's jewelry to come here in search of Elderado and they lost everything," a Pakistani official said.
The lure of boom-town wages and tax-free consumer goods here was irresistible, drawing workers who would pay whatever price was asked for a chance to find a job. Even the poorest seem to find it rewarding.
Mohammed Bhatti, 33 was a policeman a later a bus driver in Pakistan, he said. Now he is a janitor in the building housing the U.S. Consulate here. He lives in a space under the stairs.
"It's better than Pakistan," he said. "There the salary was very low. Here, no problem." Bhatti's cubbyhole has no window but he has cut a hole in the wall for his air conditioner. He also has a toastic and an iron. Evry month, he said, he is able to send money home to his three chuldren.
South Asian in the Emirates are of every economic and education level. Some are prosperous, well established merchants and businessmen who have been here since before indepedence and who have children in schools here. Others are while collar staff working on contract in banks, insurance companies and hotels. Buy many perhaps most are illiterate manual laborers, living in all-male labor camps and ten cities in what one knowledgeable source called "very objecg conditions."
Fear of deportation keeps many workers from complaining and strikes are illegal. As a result, while the workers often tolerate their living conditions in silence, there has been an upsurge of crime, most of it attributable to South Asians. CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post